• Categories

Sagebrush Rebellion

sage1We live in the West and we are intrinsically bound to sagebrush. It’s part of our soul. Lewis and Clark camped among the “sage bushes”, Zane Grey wrote “Riders of the Purple Sage“, John Wayne rode the “Sagebrush Trail“, it is the state flower of Nevada. We love the smell and the lore and we have a long-standing love/hate relationship with Artemesia, yet we have spent generations attempting to erradicate it. When I lived in Wyoming, I remember watching as a large anchor chain strung between two bulldozers was dragged across a sea of sage in order to remove the native brush and replace it with non-native grasses to improve grazing for cattle. We have used fire, plows, mowers and herbicides to destroy large swaths of sagebrush across the West. We have stripped millions of acres to grow wheat and potatoes and to plant grass for cattle. We have lost over half of our sagebrush ecosystems and yet, we continue to find new ways to threaten sagebrush habitats. Coal, gas and oil development across the western states threatens, fragments and endangers the “sagebrush sea” and now we plan large wind farms and solar developments that will present even more problems for these same habitats.

Sagebrush ecosystems harbor many species of birds, such as sage grouse, thrashers and hawks. Range is shrinking for pygmy rabbits, antelope,

Sage Grouse

Sage Grouse

deer and elk who are heavilly dependent on sage for survival. It’s hard to work up enthusiasm for saving sagebrush. It’s not cool and inviting like an old-growth forest. It’s not spectacular like a rocky coast or a rain forest. Sagebrush is just miles and miles of dry, gray-green harshness and yet it is one of the most threatened habitats in the United States. This week, the Fish and Wildlife Service delayed, once again, a decision on listing the Sage Grouse in 11 western states as an endangered species. The decision has been delayed twice since 2007. This time the decision was delayed until February 2010 because the Service “needed more time to gather scientific data”.  Sage Grouse have been reduced to 56% of their historical range and no one is really sure how many remain.

The diet of sage grouse consists of 60% sage and it forms 100% of their winter diet. Sagebrush provides 93% of the winter diet of antelope in eastern Montana and it is the number one ingredient in the winter diet for mule deer. The pygmy rabbit gets 99% of it’s winter diet from sagebrush. Due to habitat degradation, mainly from sage removal, competition for forage with cows and trampled burrows, the subspecies of the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit is now considered genetically extinct. We haven’t found a way yet to exterminate sagebrush and it’s likely we won’t, it is a very hardy plant, but many of the species that depend on artemesia are in serious peril including the sage grouse, the Brewers sparrow and the pygmy rabbit.

Prairie Wind Farm

Prairie Wind Farm

We’ve reached a conundrum. We are endangering sagebrush habitats and their species more than ever by our activities, but once those species reach the level of the ESA, saving the animals could imperil our search for and development of new energy sources across the West that may help to lessen our burden on the planet. Something’s gotta give and we make the rules, not the grouse or the rabbits.

4 Responses

  1. nice piece. let’s hope we move forward soon.

    Losing Sagebrush

  2. […] Sagebrush Rebellion – The Button Valley Bugle We have lost over half of our sagebrush ecosystems and yet, we continue to find new ways to threaten sagebrush habitats. Coal, gas and oil development across the western states threatens, fragments and endangers the “sagebrush sea” and now we plan large wind farms and solar developments that will present even more problems for these same habitats. Posted in Wildlife Habitat, conservation, sage grouse. Leave a Comment » […]

  3. Katie – Thanks so much and we appreciate the conservation work done by WWP. You guys define cool.

  4. hey – i enjoyed reading your pygmy post. AND I love sagebrush rebellion part …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: